Four Writing Lessons I’ve Learned The Hard Way


I want to be  a professional, paid for my work, sort of writer.  I’ve gotten close.  Once I wrote some “flavor text” for a role-playing game.  I was supposed to get paid in the form of a copy of the book and my name in the credits.  I never got my copy of the book so I’ve never even verified that my name was in the credits, so I may be published, but I can’t verify it (if you have a copy of Majoko Witch Girls and you could check the credits for me I would be so appreciative).  I was also published once before in a small local magazine that I don’t even remember the name of.  I used a pseudonym at the time and I wasn’t paid for the work, but again, a close brush with professional writing.  I’ve managed to have small articles published on occasion in a couple of gaming e-zines, but I wasn’t paid for those either.  Some day I’ll have something written that someone will be willing to publish and pay me for, but until then I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Through all this time of nearly getting paid/published I have learned a few lessons and I thought I would share them with you now.  While I’m sure some the lessons may seem like common sense, they took me some time to figure them out.  Hell, some of them may not even pertain to you (I hope you are so lucky), but they are things I came across and I thought I’d pass these lessons on to you.

#1  DON’T GET DISTRACTED BY WRITING WHILE YOU’RE TRYING TO WRITE

Okay, this little article here qualifies as a distraction (I said I had learned the lessons, I didn’t say I was good at following them).  I’ve been working on my novel for NaNoWriMo and I stopped so I could write this.  Bad Bad Bad Eric.  Stay focused on your work whenever you sit down to work on it.  If you want or need to write something else you need to set aside some time for that particular project, don’t let it interrupt the projected you started on.  Life is distracting enough without letting yourself getting sidetracked by something else that you want to write.  I’m not saying that you have to write one thing and one thing only until it is done, but try to make sure you dedicate time to each project you are working on.  You can even set a time fo just random writing, but once you start that random writing time project, stick to it for the time alloted.

#2  DON’T EDIT UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED THE ROUGH DRAFT

I’ve personally fallen prey to this one a lot.  I’ve asked people to read what I’ve written well before I’m finished and they are happy to do so and to share their thoughts on it.  For this I am grateful.  I love getting input on what I’m writing, but there is a pitfall here.  I tend to listen to their input and then I start going back trying to address the points they bring up, fixing the errors they have found and ultimately losing myself in the editing.  I’m all for editing, but wait until you’re done with your draft before you get there, otherwise you run the risk of over editing and never actually finishing the project in the first place.A few years back I let someone read a story I had been working on.  His critique stroke home to the point where I started a complete re-write of the project. Ultimately I came to my senses and remembered that he was just one reader, and while his opinion was appreciated, it was still just an opinion.  The important thing is to write.  The editing and polishing will all come later.

#3 PEOPLE DON’T THINK THE WAY YOU DO

This one was a relatively recent discovery for me.  I like to think of myself as rational and I tend to give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt.  I recently read the entire series of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  I loved the books, but they were driving me a little crazy because there was so much distrust between friends.  People keeping secret from each other or acting a certain way because they were so afraid of how it would impact someone else.  I couldn’t imagine living my life the way they did (with or without all of the supernatural stuff going on).  Then one day it hit me like a brick tossed through my bedroom window:  Conflict.  The books were great and you devour them as you go because there is just a ton of conflict.  While Jim Butcher manages to throw enough physical conflict at you to leave your head spinning, the emotional conflict takes everything to a whole nother level and is the spice that makes the soup spectacular as opposed to simply sustenance.  I looked hard at my own long fiction and found that I did not have nearly enough subtle conflict in it.  I wrote like I thought.  I expected people to act rational by my way of thinking, but the truth is that my rational may very well be someone else’s irrational (somewhere in here is a lesson about tolerance, but I’m not going to let myself get distracted in that direction).  It is important to write your characters like people, and people don’t all think and act the same way.  Distrust is natural for some and not for others.  We do things because they seem right to us, so step out of yourself and into someone else’s shoes when you do your writing.

#4  DON’T WORRY ABOUT WORD COUNT OR THE NUMBER OF PAGES

Write the story.  Keep writing until it is done.  If the story ends up only five pages long it may not be the great American novel, but it may turn into a great short story.  You wrote 200,000 words?  Good for you.  It may be War and Peace or The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The point is that setting yourself artificial goals can stifle your work.  Write it.  The editing process may very well add or take away pages or words.  That is what the editing process is there for.  Now obviously if you are writing for a publisher who has a set a limit to your word count you have to be a little more cognizant of the length and that will impact the way you use your words, but if you don’t have a hard requirement like that then just write and the rest will come along.

Well there you have it.  A little bit of writing wisdom from an unpublished writer.  Take it for what its worth (I’ll take payment if you think its worth anything of value…but then I’d be a paid writer and I’d have to edit this thing all over again.  Oh forget it.  Have it for free.  But seriously I  do accept cash or PayPal.) and I hope you use it well.

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2 thoughts on “Four Writing Lessons I’ve Learned The Hard Way

  1. Whether you should pay attention to the word count depends on what you’re trying to write. Pacing yourself while learning to write can create habits that later help you pace yourself without thinking too hard about it.

    1. I actually agree with this some. I’ve been giving myself a word count range as a goal and so far this month I’ve been able to stick with it and I can see that having that goal has helped. I was thinking more along the lines of project goals. I always find that if I’m aiming at a word count for a project I spend too much time focusing on that instead of focusing on the project itself.

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